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The aim of the experiment is to investigate how each of several
different weights of varying mass attached to a parachute in turn can
influence the gravitational pull and air resistance forces acting on
it, consequently affecting the time it takes to reach the ground when
dropped from a specific height.
Forces are measured in Newtons (N), named after Isaac Newton who
invented this unit. We cannot see them but instead we can see their
effects on objects, so forces are described in terms of what they do.
They can cause objects to turn, change speed, direction or shape.
The forces acting on a falling parachute are gravity and air
resistance and these are the two forces which affect the speed at
which the parachute falls.
Air resistance (also called drag) is when air molecules collide with
an object’s leading surface. This is the opposite force to gravity,
and can slow falling objects down.
The actual amount of air resistance encountered by the
object depends on a variety of factors. The two most common factors
which have a direct effect upon the amount of air resistance are:
- the speed of the object
- the cross-sectional area of the object
Increased speeds and increased cross-sectional areas result in an
increased amount of air resistance.
Gravity is what causes objects to fall downwards. If there was no air
resistance, all falling objects would accelerate at 10m/s/s (10m/s²)
because there would be no other force to change the speed.
Acceleration is the rate at which the velocity of an object changes
over a period of time. It is measured in m/s², and it tells you how
much the velocity will change each second. When air resistance is
present, objects with different mass accelerate at different speeds.
Parachutes, as used in this investigation, are effective because they
have a very large surface area compared to the weight attached and so
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pull of gravity on the weight.
Before the actual experiment, a pre-test was carried out to ensure
accuracy and that all the correct factors will be used for the final
These are the 5 weights which will be used:
* ½ oz (14.1g)
* 1 oz (28.4g)
* 1 ½ oz (42.6g)
* 2 oz (56.8g)
* 2 ½ oz (71.0g)
The parachute was dropped every time from a height of about 7ft. Each
of the 5 weights was dropped 3 times and the results added together to
give the overall average falling time for the weight.
Pre-test Results Table
Time Taken For Each Experiment (sec)
For the actual experiment I am going to drop the parachute from a
higher height than that which was used for the pre-test because
hopefully this will achieve more reliable results as it will have had
longer to fall and to achieve the terminal velocity.
The weights that were used will also be used for the next experiment,
as these were the ones available which weren’t too light and caused
the parachute to drift and spin a lot, or too heavy and made the
Results will be recorded to 2 decimal places as this gives reasonable
accuracy and allows comparison between results, but makes points
relatively straightforward to plot on a graph.
When dropped, each weight will initially cause the whole parachute to
accelerate, and as it gains speed it encounters an increasing amount
of opposing upward air resistance force.
The parachute will continue to gain speed until the air
resistance hitting its surface increases to a large enough value to
balance the downward force of gravity. At this point, the net force is
0 Newtons, and the parachute stops accelerating. Then the parachute
will have reached its terminal velocity and it will continue to fall
at a constant speed until intercepted by a solid object, such as the
Weights which have more mass experience a greater
downward force of gravity. They will have to accelerate for a longer
period of time before there is sufficient upward air resistance to
balance the large downward force of gravity.
So in conclusion, the heavier weights (56.8g, 71.0g) will
fall faster than the lighter weights (14.2g, 28.4g) because they take
longer to reach a terminal velocity due to a larger force of gravity
acting on them. They build up more and more air resistance as they
accelerate, approaching a terminal velocity when the air resistance
force equals the gravity force.
Lighter weights on the other hand, would reach a terminal velocity
more quickly, because of having less gravity acting on them due to
them weighing less and so fall at a slower speed.
List of Equipment
* 30cm Ruler
* Plastic parachute (30cm x 30cm) & string (4 pieces, each 35cm)
* Small plastic container to hold weights
* 5 weights: - ½ oz (14.1g)
- 1 oz (28.4g)
- 1 ½ oz (42.6g)
- 2 oz (56.8g)
- 2 ½ oz (71.0g)
* Firstly, I will make the parachute. This will be done by cutting a
square shape from a plastic carrier bag measuring 30cm across and
using a ruler for accuracy. A hole will be made in each corner of the
square using scissors and a piece of 35cm long string threaded through
each. The ends of the strings will be joined together and a small
plastic container tied there in which each weight will be placed.
* Next, each weight in turn will be placed in the plastic container
and the parachute dropped 3 times for each weight from a height of
approximately 7ft for the pre-test. A stopwatch will be used to time
how many seconds it takes to reach the floor, and the results of the
pre-test will recorded in a table.
* Then the actual experiment will be carried out, the same way as
the pre-test, but with a height of 13ft instead of 7ft, and again
recorded in a table.
* After calculating the average time for each weight, the averages
will be plotted on a graph.
An important way in which I hope to keep the test fair is by dropping
the parachute 3 times for each weight, instead of just once. This
should increase the reliability of my results because any times taken
and recorded which are not valid will be easy to spot if they are very
dissimilar to the other two results taken for that weight.
When recording my results, I will write the times in seconds to 2
decimal places, as this makes it easier to compare between the
different results and spot any anomalous ones.
An average of the 3 results will be calculated for each of
the 5 weights, which should provide an accurate overall time to then
be plotted on a graph.
The same brass weights and parachute will be used throughout the
experiment. Care will be taken to ensure that no factors are altered
which could change any results.
Every time the parachute is dropped, it will be from the same height.
If the parachute comes into contact with an object during it’s
descent, spins too much or drifts too far, then the time taken will be
considered invalid and the process repeated.
This is not a particularly dangerous experiment, however it is
important to be aware of any risks that could be involved. For some
parts of the experiment there may be many people working in a
relatively small space, and as the practical part involves dropping
weights from a height onto the floor where people may be walking, care
should be taken not to drop the weights on anyone’s foot or place a
foot under where the weight will be dropped.
Weights or equipment which is not being used will be kept in a place
where it can’t be knocked, lost or considered a hazard.
Time Taken For Each Experiment (sec)
The final results were what I had expected and support my prediction
that heavier weights fall faster than lighter weights because each
weight at first causes the whole parachute to accelerate, then gain
speed until reaching its terminal velocity when the amount of opposing
upward air resistance force increases enough to match the gravity and
then fall at a constant speed.
These results prove that the weight on the
parachute affects the speed at which it falls and also the time it
takes to reach the ground. This is because Weights which have more
mass experience a greater downward force of gravity. They will have to
accelerate for a longer period of time before there is sufficient
upward air resistance to balance the large downward force of gravity.
From the graph I can see that generally the points form a
downward-sloping gentle curve, relatively close together but with the
first point (the lightest weight) higher than might be expected if
compared with the position of the other points.
Overall I think the experiment went well and the results collected at
the end were valid and reasonably accurate, though accuracy could have
been improved, but on the other hand any discrepancies that occurred
during the test are accounted for.
There were no anomalous results, though they could have been made more
reliable by taking more care to control factors which could influence
them, such as the temperature of the room – could a warmer room have
affected the parachute, as warm air is less dense and rises?
The test might also have been made fairer by dropping the parachute at
exactly the same height each time, stopping the stopwatch at the exact
moment it touched the ground and ensuring that the strings stayed
untangled and therefore were the same length. I considered using a
different method of attaching the weights to the parachute because the
weight of the plastic container might have affected the fall, but I
decided to use it as it was the simplest way and didn’t weigh very
much and also counted as part of the structure of the parachute
I could also have only accepted results for which the parachute fell
straight down and didn’t spin or float diagonally, but this proved to
be too time-consuming as it seemed that the parachute tended to do
what it wanted most of the time.
If I were to extend the investigation further, I could do more
investigations and vary different factors such as the room
temperature, the string length or parachute size, how holes in the
parachute affect results, and find different ways of improving
results, for instance how to control the parachute and stop it
spinning or drifting to the ground at an angle, and how to prevent the
parachute from crumpling or the strings becoming tangled.